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Protestors and Shareholders Hammer Halliburton
Published on Thursday, May 19, 2005 by CommonDreams.org
Protestors and Shareholders Hammer Halliburton
by Medea Benjamin and Pratap Chatterjee
 
Over 250 protesters outside the Halliburton shareholder meeting in Houston today, far outnumbering the sprinkling of shareholders who attended the company's annual meeting at the Four Seasons hotel.

The cast of characters that marched and protested opposite the hotel included a 20-foot cow with cash-filled udders, a corporate crime-fighting dog, a Dick Cheney flasher with an oil rig and two oil cans as his private parts, and Code Pink women in hot pink shrouds with the names of dead Iraqis.


Inside, the scene was much more somber, with grey-haired shareholders in dark suits and stone-faced security guards. Suddenly, shouts from the lobby of "Halliburton Out of Iraq" pierced the air. Over a dozen protesters who had rented a hotel room spewed into the lobby, the stairway to the shareholder meeting, and the entrance to the meeting itself-shouting "No War for Profits", "Stop War Profiteers"and "Halliburton Cooks the Books". Eleven protesters were dragged out of the hotel and arrested after refusing to move.

Halliburton was not able to eject all of its detractors: reluctantly, they were forced to allow in representatives from CorpWatch and Global Exchange, since both organizations had purchased shares in the company precisely to be able to attend the meeting.

The meeting started promptly at 9am, and "official business" was over within a mere 20 minutes. Against company management advice, shareholders voted in favor of a proposal by Amalgamated Bank LongView Collective Investment Fund that asked Halliburton to seek shareholder approval for future severance agreements with senior executives that exceed three times the sum of the executive's base salary plus bonus. (Former CEO Dick Cheney was given a severance package worth $20 million when he quit the company in 2000 compared to his normal annual salary of $1.3 million)

The following 13 minute question period was completely dominated by CorpWatch and Global Exchange, with the exception of a woman who asked about the company's policy for employees having affairs with other employees.

CorpWatch and Global Exchange's questions ranged from compensation for Vice President and former Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney (which Mr. Lesar confirmed was $195,000 last year) to accusations of fraudulent accounting practices (which Mr. Lesar assured were being worked out to the satisfaction of all) to the company's continued dealings with Iran, despite US government sanctions ("all of our dealings with Iran are perfectly legal," Lesar insisted).

The greatest concern of CorpWatch and Global Exchange, however, was for the welfare of the 47,000 Halliburton employees in Iraq. When asked to state the policy for compensating the families of those killed in Iraq and to provide healthcare to those wounded, Lesar replied that he was unaware of the specifics of the policy. He did confirm that 68 Halliburton employees have been killed in Iraq and 250 wounded, and that several lawsuits had been filed by these families.

One of those suing the companies for misrepresenting the true nature of their work in Iraq is Ray Stannard, a former Halliburton truck driver from El Paso, Texas. Stannard, speaking at a teach-in the night before the shareholder meeting, explained that he and his colleagues were totally unprepared, ill-equipped, and inadequately trained for their job of driving trucks on some of the most dangerous roads in the world. Most of the drivers, who were lured to Iraq with the promise of making upwards of $80,000/year, knew nothing about the country, the culture, the language, the history and the geography of Iraq.

On April 9, 2004, Stannard and 18 other men were forced to go out on a convoy to deliver fuel to the US military at the Baghdad airport, despite a "black alert" warning that no one -including the military-should be out on the streets. The truckers ran into a major gun battle on what has become the world's most dangerous highway. Two hours later, six drivers had died, one was kidnapped and one had disappeared. Only 11 made it to their destination alive that day - the first anniversary of the United States defeat of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq.

"None of us knew the route and several men had never driven in Iraq before. The company provided us with very little training and security. They drew us a map in the sand and that was it," said Stannard.

Stannard was seriously injured and had to be flown back to the United States for surgery. It took him over a month to get Halliburton to pay his healthcare costs. Stannard and several of his co-workers have brought a lawsuit against Halliburton in Texas state courts while the daughter of one driver who was killed (Tony Johnson of Riverside, California) has sued the company in federal courts in California.

"What worries me most is the TCNs (Third Country Nationals that Halliburton hires from places like India, Pakistan and the Philippines). When we get hurt, we have ways to pressure the company; they have nothing."

Stannard explained that non-US nationals, many of whom are from South and South-East Asia, also suffer from abusive working conditions. They have to live in separate tents and use different toilets and dining facilities. They also get paid much lower salaries than the Americans. US drivers, for example, make as much as $7,000 a month, while the Asian workers make about $200-300/month.

In addition to the lawsuits by the former truck drivers, Halliburton is facing multiple government and military investigations into overcharging by its Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR) subsidiary in Iraq, as well as demands for more transparency and accountability from members of Congress, led by Representative Henry Waxman of Santa Monica, California.

David Lesar, Halliburton's chairman and chief executive, told CorpWatch and Global Exchange that Halliburton was "evaluating" how to separate KBR from the parent company.

"We only make between one and two cents on the dollar on our military contracts, in comparison to 19 cents on the dollar for our energy contracts," a senior Halliburton manager told Global Exchange after the meeting. "We also have to borrow a massive amount of money to start the work before the government pays us. Between that and all the risk and the bad publicity headaches, it makes financial sense to make us a pure energy company."

Protesters vow to continue to put the pressure on Halliburton, exposing their war profiteering, their accounting shenanigans and their all-too-intimate relationship with the White House.

Medea Benjamin is co-founder of Global Exchange and CODEPINK. Pratap Chatterjee is program director and managing editor of CorpWatch.

Copies of CorpWatch's 2005 Alternative Annual Report on Halliburton can be downloaded at http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=12259

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